Silver Jewelry & Tarnishing

Tarnishing, or toning, is an effect on the outermost layer of silver metal that causes it to become discolored.  As you know more about it, you can better prevent your silver jewelry from getting darken.  

Silver is one of the most popular metals when it comes to jewelry. 

100% pure silver is a soft, flexible and malleable material, and almost impossible to use for jewelry making without the addition of other metals. This is why elements and alloys such as copper, nickel or brass are used to make silver stronger and more durable. So, despite silver being a noble metal which means it is resistant to corrosion, it is still prone to tarnishing when exposed tarnishing elements, such as chlorine or sulfur (tarnish is a chemical reaction on the surface of metal). 

Copper, reacting primarily to sulphur in the air, is the main cause of tarnish. But, the copper can also react to a variety of other compounds. Hence, silver tarnishes faster in areas where there is greater pollution and higher levels of humidity, or even when it comes in contact with cosmetics. 

Salt Air l Chlorine l Sulphur

If you reside in proximity of the sea you might also notice the your silver tends to darken fast. 

Salt air will cause metals to oxidize, and it will have a long–term effect on any jewelry. It’s especially harmful to rose–gold jewelry because of the copper that it contains. Sea salt is very corrosive to copper and it will cause more damage to rose gold jewelry than silver or yellow gold, which has brass and silver in it. You should also be careful with other soft or absorbent materials like coral or turquoise – they can absorb the sea salt and air that will cause damage to your jewelry. 

Be especially careful when visiting hot water baths. Chlorine, sulphur and heat of the water will react with silver and the damage may be irreversible. 

Sand

 

Another damaging element is sand. It can be very abrasive and will wear off the surface – be particularly careful with coated surface jewelry (silver, gold or rhodium–plating). This also applies to all jewelry with gemstones, where a harder stone like diamond, sapphire, or ruby, would not be affected as much as a softer stone (quartz minerals like amethyst or jasper are a lot more likely to be damaged).

Perfume l Cosmetics 

 

Perfume, cosmetics or suntan lotion can also create chemical reaction or damage silver, as well as gemstones (it is well know fact that you should never spray perfume on pearls) so it is in general not advisable to wear jewelry on the beach or when visiting hot water baths. Makeup on the skin or clothing is one of the most common causes of jewelry blackening. Cosmetics often contain chemical compounds which are harder than the jewelry itself. Metallic abrasion occurs when these hard compounds, found in most makeup products, come in contact with the metal of the jewelry and wear or rub off very tiny particles of metal which appear as black dust. 

Perspiration l Body Chemistry

 

Perspiration is know to blacken your silver but even changes in body chemistry can cause tarnish. The skin contains thousands of perspiration glands that emit enough fatty acids to actually cause a chemical reaction. The use of heavy antibiotics has been known to create a reaction that darkens silver, but even a diet which contains a higher amount of sulphur rich foods, such as eggs, garlic or seafood, could produce sweat to have a higher concentration of sulphur compounds. As mentioned previously, sulphur can cause a reaction with the copper contained in silver alloy and thus accelerate tarnishing. 

It is advisable to keep your silver jewelry stored in a closed container when you are not wearing it. It can also help if you clean it after wearing it – see here about silver cleaning methods for more info.